DigitalCatapult: Open Futures conference

This week London Digital Catapult hosted an Open Data futures conference looking at “Urban Data. Health Data. Environmental Data.”

Big subjects for not a lot of time so it was inevitable that talk would move to IoT, big data and business models. Amongst the first sessiosn speakers was Robin Hawkes who talked about his Viziities project which creates a 3d, geographical environment against which to visualise data. It looked great and there is a nice demo (,-1.5398225) and open source versions ( . The image above is of their London Underground map ( .

Ian Makgill talked about spendnetwork ( and their Spendsmall ( report which ranks authorities based on how they spend on local business. Highlighting issues in pulling data together he made the point that there isn’t a standard dataset of government organisations. He also commented on the freemium model, quite a common theme, and why anyone would want to pay them – “If you want to do it yourself then go for it. If you want us to do it, because we do it better, then pay us!”

The second session looked at environmental data. Dr Vicky Pope – head of innovation at Met Office talked about their move from the MOD to BIS and what that might mean for partnerships and the, still unchartered, issues of being income generating in that context. There were some useful examples of projects like datapoint ( and collaborations like Sunderlandsoftwarecity (

Tyler Christie, CEO of AMEE ( talked about their environmental dashboard ( products and, in the discussion afterwards, emphasised again the emphasis on tooling services / Aggregators as a key business model in this are.

The afternoon session started with a presentation from Sarah Williams who is based at the Civic Data Design Lab at MIT. She talked about a recent project mapping taxis around Nairobi ( . I’ve followed Sarah’s work for a while and her mix of data driven, community focussed projects is inspirational. Well worth exploring.

The session also included input from Drew Hemment – CEO of future everything who presented theCity SDK project ( and Justin Anderson ,chair of TechUK’s IOT council. There was much talk about the Internet of things including the move to try and get the Hypercat spec ( turned into a British Standard.

Talk of the IOT’s inevitably led to smart cities and Anderson’s view that Bristol ( and Milton-Keynes are the best examples of Tier2 ‘smart cities’ in UK at the moment.

Overall it was an interesting day – refreshingly consultant lite! The overriding challenge could be best summed up as ideas looking for business models. There were lots of great technologies in the room but as Drew Hemment stressed in his presentation, still a need to think of the problem first rather than create and then go looking for problems to solve.